I’m still coming to terms with the Paris trip of last November. Partly it’s because I’ve just recovered a huge stack of photos after the catastrophic computer failure I suffered in the last week of the idyll. Short version of this: I’d been carefully moving photos from phone and camera to the travel laptop for safekeeping, not trusting phone memory or camera memory card. Laptop breaks down, big time. Back in Oz, I had to try a few different places before one could retrieve anything. Yes, it was that big a meltdown. It took some time. The result is some recovered beautiful pix and some recovered corrupted pix. C’est la vie.
That incident cast a slight shadow over the Paris sojourn, but it couldn’t take away from the marvellous time we had – nearly five weeks in Paris with a few days in Hong Kong on the way over and the way back.
We planned the Paris stay to be somewhat like our London visit of 2011. We wanted to find a flat, base ourselves there, walk and Metro all around the city, and take a few day trips out a bit further. A simple plan, and it worked.
We found a flat in le Marais, right near the Pompidou Centre. Our street was a narrow mediaeval thoroughfare, Rue Quincampoix. Our flat was in a building that dated back to the sixteenth century – but with good modern renovations. It was small, but it was cosy and well appointed, and the location was perfect for us. We could easily walk to the river, the Louvre, Museé D’orsay, the Opera Garnier, the Tuileries, Notre Dame and Île de la Cité. If we were feeling lazy – or we wanted to jostle with French commuters – we took the Metro. So much of the city was in easy reach.
Early on we found the local food sellers, the fresh food markets and the marvellous boulangeries. We alternated between whipping up quick dinners (omelettes and salad with cheese to follow, accompanied by exquisite baguette) and eating out. So many excellent, affordable eateries within easy reach. I admire the way the French approach their food. They take it seriously, whether it’s
ingredients for their own cooking, or somewhere to eat out. They know that good food is an important part of life and they appreciate it done well.
We love a bit of history and a bit of culture, so Paris is perfect for us. Wendy speaks excellent French so she was able to negotiate any tricky purchases or bookings that came up. So we made our way around the city, soaking up experiences and generally being delighted by everything. Much of what we saw is well-known, but these sights are well-known for a reason: they’re sensational. We also enjoyed some of the lesser-known sights of Paris, each with its own specialness. The whole time there was imbued with what Denis deNuto would have called, ‘The vibe of the thing’, that wonderful Gallic style that touches all aspects of life, from the glitter to the gutters.
Must See Big Ticket Highlights
Eiffel Tower. Yes, the queues are long, but it’s hard to go to Paris and then go home and tell people you didn’t go to the Eiffel Tower. Besides, it’s a marvel in its own right, and the views are amazing.
The Louvre. So much in one place. You want your big Old Master knockouts? They’re here. Just don’t pretend you’re going to see everything.
Museé D’orsay. I liked it even more than the Louvre. It’s one hit after another, with your van Goghs,
your Cezannes, your Manets, your Gauguins … I could go on. Oh, and the building (a converted railway station) is extraordinary in itself.
Pompidou Centre. Okay, let’s get modern industrial funky style. Multimedia, out there installations, performances and so cool you could freeze stuff all over the place.
Notre Dame and Sainte Chapelle. Oh, may as well make it ‘Île de la Cité’ and do the whole wonderful island. Notre Dame for its rose windows and its pre-eminence. Sainte Chapelle for its gobsmacking stained glass. I mean really, really gobsmacking. Île de la Cité for its gorgeous, quaint streets and buildings and its quietness in the middle of the city.
Some Lesser Known But Still Fantastic Highlights
Museé Carnavalet. We started with this one. It’s the museum of the history of Paris and gives a superb snapshot of the city from pre-Roman days to the present. It gave us a good overview of the place we were about to spend a month in, a useful historical context.
Musée National du Moyen Age. This Left Bank museum is housed in one of the oldest remaining substantial buildings in the city, and houses some mediaeval treasures, including the majestic ‘Lady and the Unicorn’ tapestries.
Musée de l’Armée. This is probably the greatest military museum in the world. If you’re interested in weapons, uniforms and militaria in general, this is unbeatable. Sombre, at times, but breathtaking. If you’re interested, Napoleon’s Tomb is next door.
Les Puces. The flea market complex right out the end of Metro Line 4. SO MUCH STUFF. You want a seventeenth century fireplace? Not a problem. A Napoleonic cavalry sabre? You have a choice, sir. A hip 1960s lamp shade. Choose your colour! I bought a set of magnificent midnight blue tails. 1930s, maybe? Cheap.
Opera Garnier. Visit to have a look at its amazing gilt clad interior, but even better is to book one of the guided tours, as we did, where you get background, history and a peek at some parts the public doesn’t normally see.
Some Amazing Sights That Mightn’t Be for Everyone
The Sewer Tour. Under the streets of Paris you can walk through a working part of the Paris sewerage system. Fragrant, and surprisingly interesting.
Musée Cognacq-Jay. A lovely little boutique museum specialising in seventeenth century decorative arts.
Double Fond. ‘Le café théâtre de la magie’ – a theatre restaurant/magic cabaret. Lunatic, funny, gasp-inducing stuff. Can’t speak French? Doesn’t really matter.
Musée des Arts et Métiers. Paris has three science museums, by my count. I like this one. It started out as a repository of historic instruments, devices and equipment and was housed in a twelfth century priory. Good enough to visit as it is, but it also has a replica of Lavoisier’s laboratory, a Bleriot monoplane and a working Foucault pendulum. Geek heaven.
Three Really Good Places to Eat
Le Restaurant Des Poetes. Situated in the Passage Molière, this was a busy, inexpensive, noisy French bistro where the food was excellent.
Grizzli Café. A bit more expensive, but I had a very fine cheese board here.
Le Train Bleu. For the big night out. This is part of the Gare de Lyon station and is a glorious art nouveau/belle époque dream. Good food, too.
Trips We Made Out of Paris
Chateaux of the Loire. An organised day trip where we saw the playgrounds of the French nobility. Splendid castles, beautiful grounds.
Fontainebleau. Amazing palace with so much to see. It’s been home to about a zillion kings and queens and each one has made their own special addition. Wow.
Chartres. We took the train to this town about 100 k from Paris, home to the most complete Gothic cathedral in France. The town itself has many medieval buildings and is a storybook village. The cathedral is awe-inspiring.
London. We jumped on Eurostar and whipped over to London. We spent time at the British Museum, then nipped to the Savoy Hotel for one of their perfect afternoon teas, then caught Les Miserables at the Queens Theatre. Ironic, really, leaving Paris to go to London to see a show about Paris, but there you have it. The next day we had time to visit Victoria and Albert Museum (saw a wonderful consume exhibition) and the Science Museum before we had to catch the train back home to Paris.
We walked around a lot and inhaled Paris.
Streetscapes. The extraordinary streetscapes. So much character.
The Metro works superbly. Miss a train? Don’t worry, there’s one coming in two minutes.
Shopping. Look around for amazing, individual designer pieces from young, upcoming makers. They’re around and cheaper and far more individual than name brand shops.
Walking Tours. We did three of the walking tours with the Paris Walks people and were impressed. Cheap, friendly and knowledgeable and with an extensive program of themed walks. We recommend them.
This is a snapshot of the wonderful time we had rather than a comprehensive rundown, but that’s for the good. A memorable time.
Travel is important for all sorts of reason. I sometimes think that if everyone travelled, if everyone spent time out in the wide world and saw and ate and talked to people from far away, the world would be a happier place.